As it happened

Scores of civilians reach safety as Russia renews assault on Mariupol plant

Civilians who fled from Mariupol and its surroundings arrive at a reception centre for displaced people in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday.
Civilians who fled from Mariupol and its surroundings arrive at a reception centre for displaced people in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday. © Francisco Seco, AP

Ukraine say Russian forces have launched a "powerful assault" on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, where more than 200 civilians are still holed up with Ukrainian fighters, according to the city's mayor. Humanitarian workers say around 100 civilians have successfully been evacuated from the plant and are now in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia. Read about the day’s events as they unfolded on our liveblog. All times are Paris time (GMT+2). 

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04:15am: Russia to boycott UN Security Council meeting with EU committee

In a rare move, Russia will boycott a UN Security Council meeting Wednesday with the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC), diplomats said, a further sign of deteriorating relations between Moscow and its United Nations partners.

According to a Russian diplomatic source speaking anonymously Tuesday, Moscow’s decision is linked to the situation in Ukraine.

A Western diplomat told AFP they had no memory of Russia boycotting a Security Council meeting since it invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The annual informal meeting between the council and the PSC has not been held since 2019 due to the Covid pandemic. Wednesday’s meeting is expected to address the EU’s interaction with the UN in countries where both organizations are conducting operations.

Russia, which is one of the five permanent members on the Security Council, has been ousted from several UN bodies, including the human rights council.

At a press conference Tuesday, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, whose country will assume the Security Council presidency in May, said the council has been “extraordinarily successful” in “isolating Russia” since the end of February.

“Russia is isolated in the Security Council, and every time we have a discussion in the Security Council as it relates to Russia, they are on the defensive and we will continue to keep them on the defensive until they end their brutal attack on the Ukrainian people,” she told reporters.

02:44am: European Council chief ‘confident’ EU will adopt embargo on Russian oil, despite pushback

“Our goal is simple, we must break the Russian war machine,” said European Council president Charles Michel on Tuesday. “I am confident that the council will imminently impose further sanctions, notably on Russian oil.”

Such an embargo could far-reaching impacts, as the EU imports one-third of its oil from Russia, and accounts for two-thirds of the country’s oil exports. FRANCE 24’s Alison Sargent explains:

May 4, 12:21am: Russia strikes Lviv, other parts of western Ukraine

Russian strikes hit several regions across Ukraine on Tuesday, including the western hub of Lviv and a mountainous region bordering Hungary which was targeted for the first time, officials said.

The mayor of Lviv, near the Polish border, said the strikes caused power outages in parts of the city.

“As a result of the rocket strike (on Lviv), two power substations were damaged. A part of the city doesn’t have electricity,” Andriy Sadoviy said on Twitter, adding that one person was wounded.

Authorities also reported strikes in the central region of Kirovograd and the southwestern region of Vinnytsia.

The mountainous region of Transcarpathia, which borders Hungary and Slovakia and which has so far been spared attacks, was also hit Tuesday.

“Services are working on the spot, we are clarifying information about injuries and possible victims,” the head of the region’s military administration Viktor Mykyta said on Telegram.

Ukrainian media said it was the first time the region was hit since the Russian invasion in late February.

While Russia has focused its invasion on Ukraine’s eastern regions, it has also targeted western areas, with the Kremlin warning it will target flows of Western weapons into the country.

FRANCE 24’s Nadia Massih reports from Kyiv:

10:44pm: Donetsk governor says 21 civilians killed in single day

Russian attacks in the eastern Donetsk region killed 21 civilians and injured 27 on Tuesday, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in an online post.

Kyrylenko said the figure, which included 10 dead at a coking plant in the town of Avdiivka reported earlier, was the highest daily death toll in the region since last month's deadly attack on a railway station in the town of Kramatorsk. More than 50 people died in that attack.

8:55pm: UN chief hopes for 'more humanitarian pauses'

The UN secretary-general says he hopes Ukraine and Russia can organise "more humanitarian pauses" such as the one that allowed the evacuation of scores of civilians from the Azovstal steel plant.

"I hope the continued coordination with Kyiv and Moscow will lead to more humanitarian pauses that will allow civilians safe passage away from the fighting and aid to reach people where the needs are greatest," Antonio Guterres said in a statement, without specifying which locations he meant.

Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, also expressed hope the Azovstal evacuation could be repeated elsewhere.

In the Mariupol plant, "there are civilians still trapped, some of them may have been afraid to come out. Some of them probably couldn't make it," Lubrani said, though she was unable to specify the number of people who remained.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mariupol's mayor said as many as 200 civilians may still be trapped in tunnels under the steel works.

6:50pm: How Ukrainian forces frustrated Russia's advance on Kyiv

While the focus of the war has shifted to the eastern Donbas region, areas north of the capital Kyiv are still reeling from the fighting that saw Ukrainian forces successfully thwart Russia's advance on the capital city.

Reporting from the village of Demydiv, FRANCE 24's Nadia Massih takes a look at the tactics deployed by the Ukrainian army to fend off Moscow's invading troops.

5:58pm: Macron urges Russia to 'live up to its international responsibility'

The Elysée Palace is giving its account of the phone call between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin earlier today.

Macron's office says the French president told his Russian counterpart that he is willing to work with international organisations to help lift the Russian embargo on Ukrainian food exports via the Black Sea.

The French presidency also said Macron had reiterated that a ceasefire was needed in Ukraine and that he had told Putin that he was deeply concerned about the situation in Donbas and Mariupol.

"I have called on Russia to live up to its international responsibility as a UN Security Council member by putting an end to this devastating attack," a statement quoted Macron as saying.

5:18pm: Red Cross says civilians still trapped in Mariupol 'hell'

The head of the Red Cross in Ukraine says an unknown number of civilians remain trapped in Mariupol and surrounding areas, following the evacuation of more than 100 civilians from the Azovstal plant.

"We would have hoped that many more people would have been able to join the convoy and get out of hell. That is why we have mixed feelings," Pascal Hundt from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told journalists by Zoom.

He also expressed concern about signs that intense fighting had resumed in and around the plant but said the ICRC would continue to press for access to the remaining civilians.

5:06pm: Mariupol evacuees reach Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia

Dozens of evacuees who cowered for weeks in the ruins of a steel works in Russian-occupied Mariupol have reached the safety of Ukraine-controlled Zaporizhzhia, where hospitals are ready to treat them.

Reporting from the scene, FRANCE 24's Luke Shrago says buses carrying 127 people arrived in Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday afternoon. Evacuees included 69 people from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol. There were no males aged above 18 and no soldiers.

The United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) coordinated the five-day operation that began on April 29 to bring out women, children and the elderly from the steel works.

Other families and individuals from outside the steel works joined the convoy of buses and ambulances on its way, the ICRC said.

4:25pm: Russia launches 'powerful assault' on Mariupol plant

Russia has launched an attack on the encircled Azovstal steel works in Mariupol, Ukraine's last redoubt in the port city, after a ceasefire broke down with some 200 civilians still trapped underground despite a UN-brokered evacuation.

In a Telegram video, Captain Sviatoslav Palamar of Ukraine's Azov Regiment said that Russia pounded the steel works with naval and barrel artillery through the night and dropped heavy bombs from planes.

"As of this moment, a powerful assault on the territory of the Azovstal plant is under way with the support of armoured vehicles, tanks, attempts to land on boats and a large number of infantry," Palamar said. He added that two civilians were killed and 10 injured, without providing evidence.

FRANCE 24 could not independently verify his account.

3:45pm: West must stop supplying Ukraine with weapons, Putin tells Macron

Russia's Vladimir Putin has told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that the West must stop supplying weapons to Ukraine in a phone call that reportedly lasted two hours. 

Putin also accused Kyiv of not taking talks to end the conflict seriously, the Kremlin has said in its account of the conversation.

Accusing Ukrainian forces of committing war crimes, Putin told Macron "the West could help stop these atrocities by putting relevant pressure on the Kyiv authorities, as well as halting the supply of weapons to Ukraine."

Macron's office is yet to comment on the phone call.

3:28pm: UN says 101 people evacuated from Mariupol steel plant

The UN says it has successfully evacuated some 101 people from the Azovstal steel plant and that most are now in Zaporizhzhia, where they are receiving humanitarian assistance.

"Thanks to the operation, 101 women, men, children, and older persons could finally leave the bunkers below the Azovstal steelworks and see the daylight after two months," Osnat Lubrani, UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement sent to journalists.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which was also involved in the safe passage operation, released a parallel statement saying some 100 people from the Mariupol plant area had reached Zaporizhzhia on Tuesday. Among them were some wounded, it added.

3:20pm: Greece, Bulgaria says new LNG terminal will reduce reliance on Russia

Greece and Bulgaria say a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility to be built off the northern Greek port of Alexandroupolis will help create a new gas route for Europe and cut reliance on Russian gas.

Last week Moscow cut off supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for refusing to pay in roubles. Greece has been supplying Bulgaria with gas since then.

"Our countries all together are ready to assume a new crucial role in Europe's new energy map," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said at an event to mark the start of implementing the floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) in Alexandroupolis.

"Recent blackmails by Moscow over natural gas make this cooperation not only necessary but urgent," Mitsotakis added.

The new FSRU, which will be anchored about 18 kilometres (11 miles) off Alexandroupolis port and carry gas to the shore via a 28-kilometre long pipeline, is expected to start operations at the end of 2023.

It will be able to regasify 5.5 billion cubic metres of LNG annually and store 153,500 cubic metres.

2:26pm: Russia targeting Azovstal plant with 'artillery and planes'

The Russian army says its forces and pro-Moscow separatists from the Donbas region are using artillery and planes to target Azovstal, the steel plant in the port city of Mariupol where Ukrainian fighters are making their last stand.

"Using artillery and aircraft, units of the Russian army and the Donetsk People's Republic are beginning to destroy" the "firing positions" of the Ukrainian troops, the defence ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

The ministry accused Ukrainian soldiers and members of the Azov militia of exploiting a ceasefire to move into firing positions at the besieged plant.

"A ceasefire was declared, civilians had to be evacuated from Azovstal territory. Azov and Ukrainian servicemen, who are stationed on the plant, took advantage of it. They came out of the basement, they took up firing positions on the territory and in the factory buildings," RIA news agency cited the ministry as saying.

2:00pm: Ukraine will win, UK PM Johnson tells Ukrainian parliament

Ukraine will defeat Russia and once again be a free country, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday in an address to the Ukrainian parliament via videolink.

Johnson, who announced a further 300 million pounds ($375 million) in military aid to Ukraine, including electronic warfare equipment and a counter-battery radar system, said Britain would continue to supply Ukraine.

"I have one message for you today: Ukraine will win, Ukraine will be free," Johnson said according to a transcript of the address provided by his office.

Johnson said that in its fight against Russia, Ukraine had "exploded the myth of (President Vladimir) Putin’s invincibility".

"The so-called irresistible force of Putin’s war machine has broken on the immoveable object of Ukrainian patriotism and love of country," he said.

1:54pm: India's Modi calls for ceasefire in Ukraine

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a ceasefire in Ukraine and peace talks between Kyiv and Moscow, during a visit to Denmark.

"We appealed for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and for the adoption of dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the problem," Modi said at a press briefing in Copenhagen.

>> Read more: India’s neutrality on Ukraine tops agenda as Modi heads to Europe

In Germany, India's Modi urges 'talks' to stop Ukraine war

 

 

1:36pm: Putin signs decree on new retaliatory sanctions against West 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on retaliatory economic sanctions in response to the "unfriendly actions of certain foreign states and international organisations", the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

According to the decree, Russia will forbid the export of products and raw materials to people and entities that it has sanctioned.

The decree also prohibits transactions with foreign individuals and companies hit by Russia's retaliatory sanctions and permits Russian counterparties not to fulfill obligations towards them.

11:08am: Biden to visit Alabama Lockheed plant, highlight Javelin missiles

President Joe Biden heads to Alabama on Tuesday to visit a Lockheed Martin Co facility that manufactures the anti-tank Javelin missile, putting the spotlight on a weapon that has helped Ukraine fight Russia's invasion.

Biden will use the visit to press Congress to approve his proposed $33 billion assistance package for Ukraine, including more than $20 billion in military aid, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

Biden will "remind people in the country of why we're fighting, why we're supporting the Ukrainians in this war, the type of equipment and the type of assistance we are providing from the United States ... and why it is urgent to get this funding across the finish line", she said.

11:02am: Slovakia says it will seek exemption from any EU embargo on Russian oil

Slovakia will seek an exemption from any embargo of Russian oil agreed by the European Union in its next set of sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, Slovakia's Economy Ministry said on Tuesday.

The European Commission is preparing a sixth package of sanctions against Russia and is expected to finalise work on Tuesday.

Two EU officials said on Monday the EU executive may spare Slovakia and Hungary from an embargo on buying Russian oil, mindful of the two countries' dependence on Russian crude.

Slovakia gets nearly all of its imported crude from Russia mainly via the Soviet-era Druzhba pipeline, and the country has said it had reserves for 120 days.

10:30am: Ukraine evacuees flee to safety after ordeal in Mariupol steel works

The evacuation operation, overseen by the Red Cross and the United Nations, is taking place amid great security. One hundred people are on board from the Azovstal steel complex, having to travel 200 kilometres through many Russian checkpoints, back into Ukrainian hands. Luke Shrago, FRANCE 24's reporter in Zaphorizhzhia, provides more details below. 

'The reception in Zaphorizhzhia is prepared'

10:21am: Russia says it bombed US and European weapons near Ukraine's Odesa

Russia has struck a military airfield near Ukraine's southwestern city of Odesa with missiles, destroying drones, missiles and ammunition supplied to Ukraine by the

United States and its European allies, the defence ministry said on Tuesday.

"High-precision Onyx missiles struck a logistics centre at a military airfield in the Odesa region through which foreign weapons were being delivered," the defence ministry said.

"Hangars containing unmanned Bayraktar TB2 drones, as well as missiles and ammunition from the U.S. and European countries, were destroyed," it said.

Russian missiles and artillery also struck various military targets across Ukraine, including command centres, arsenals, and an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system.

10:14am: Hungary will not support sanctions on Russian oil and gas shipments 

Hungary will not support sanctions that would make Russian oil and gas shipments to Hungary impossible, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a statement on Tuesday.

Speaking in Kazakhstan, Szijjarto said Russian oil shipments via the Druzhba pipeline accounted for about 65% of the oil Hungary needed and there were no alternative supply routes that could replace that.

8:52am: Mariupol mayor says more than 200 civilians still in Ukrainian city's vast steel plant

More than 200 civilians are still holed up with fighters in a huge steel plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, city mayor Vadym Boychenko said on Tuesday.

He said a total of about 100,000 civilians were still in the southern Ukrainian city that has been occupied by Russian forces.

8:07am: Italy aims to be independent from Russian gas by second half of 2024

Italy aims to cut off its dependence on Russian gas by the second half of 2024, Italy's Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani said in an interview published on Tuesday.

"We should be autonomous by the second half of 2024, we could do without importing Russian gas," Cingolani said in an interview with daily La Repubblica.

Asked about the proposed rouble payment mechanism for Russian Gas, Cingolani said that the EU Commission needs to take "a clear and unambiguous" political decision to avoid responsibility being shifted to individual governments and oil and gas companies.

8:03am: Pope says wants to go to Moscow to meet Putin over Ukraine

Pope Francis said in an interview published on Tuesday that he asked for a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to stop the war in Ukraine but has not received a response.

The pope also told Italy's Corriere Della Sera newspaper that Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has backed the war, "cannot become Putin's altar boy".

Francis, who made an unprecedented visit to the Russian embassy when the war started, told the newspaper that about three weeks into the conflict, he asked the Vatican's top diplomat to send a message to Putin.

He said the message was "that I was willing to go to Moscow. Certainly, it was necessary for the Kremlin leader to allow an opening. We have not yet received a response and we are still insisting".

He added: "I fear that Putin cannot, and does not, want to have this meeting at this time. But how can you not stop so much brutality?"

Before the interview, Francis, 85, had not specifically mentioned Russia or Putin publicly since the start of the conflict on February 24. But he has left little doubt which side he has criticised, using terms such as unjustified aggression and invasion and lamenting atrocities against civilians.

12:18am: EU prepares for showdown with Russia over oil and gas

The European Union warned member states Monday to prepare for a possible complete breakdown in gas supplies from Russia, insisting it would not cede to Moscow’s demand that imports be paid for in rubles.

The European Commission will on Tuesday propose to member states a new package of sanctions to punish President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine, including an embargo on Russian oil, officials said.

But energy and environment ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday addressed the larger and potentially more complicated issue of Russia’s natural gas, upon which several countries – including EU top economy Germany – depend for much of their power generation.

Moscow has demanded clients from “unfriendly countries” – including EU member states – pay for gas in rubles, a way to sidestep Western financial sanctions against its central bank. It has cut off Bulgaria and Poland after their firms refused to comply.

After the talks, the French chair of the meeting, ecological transition minister Barbara Pompili, and the European commissioner for energy, Kadri Simson, said the 27 member states were united with Poland and Bulgaria and would stockpile gas to be prepare for a breakdown.

Simson said that “following the full procedure as set out by Russia constitutes a breach of sanctions” imposed by the European Union.

She said that, to her knowledge, no European company was preparing to follow Putin’s decree and change its payment methods.

People walk their bikes across the street as smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, May 2, 2022.
People walk their bikes across the street as smoke rises above a plant of Azovstal Iron and Steel Works during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine, May 2, 2022. © Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters

5:51am: New EU sanctions would exclude more Russian banks from SWIFT network, Borrell says

A fresh European Union sanctions package over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is set to include “more Russian banks” being pushed out of the global SWIFT network, the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Monday.

“In the banking sector, there will be more Russian banks that will leave SWIFT,” the global banking communications system, Borrell said during a visit to Panama.

4:26am: Borrell says EU aims to pass new Russia sanctions as early as next week

The European Union hopes to pass the sixth round of sanctions against Russia at the next meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, the bloc’s chief diplomat said on Monday.

Josep Borrell told a news conference in Panama City, where he is on an official visit, the bloc hopes to curb Russia’s energy exports as part of its efforts to sanction Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the union, is expected to propose the package of EU sanctions this week, including a potential embargo on buying Russian oil – a measure that would deprive Moscow of a large revenue stream, but that has so far divided EU countries.

Borrell, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Council meetings, said he hopes the EU will be able to take “measures to significantly limit these imports” but conceded so far there is no agreement from all the members.

“But I am confident that, at least with regard to oil imports, this agreement will be possible between now and the next Council meeting,” he added.

The Council has meetings scheduled for May 10 and May 16 later this month.

2:47am: Ukrainian forces apparently ‘taking ground back’ in Kharkiv

Frank Ledwidge, a senior lecturer in military strategy and law at the University of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, tells FRANCE 24 that the Russian advance has stalled in the Kharkiv area and may force the invading troops to call in reinforcements from the Donbas region.

“It seems the Ukrainians (in Kharkiv) are taking ground back from the Russians and threatening their supply lines,” says Ledwidge. “It looks as if they’re going to need to draw forces away from the Donbas to achieve some kind of rescue of their beleaguered force up there.”

Ledwidge adds that the Russian offensive in Donbas is beginning to slow down, having failed to achieve the kind of breakthrough Moscow was seeking.

1:08am: Russia plans to ‘annex’ Ukraine’s Donetsk, Lugansk regions with sham referendums, US official says

Russia is planning imminently to “annex” the two eastern regions of Ukraine battered by its invasion after failing to overthrow the Kyiv government, a senior US official said Monday.

“According to the most recent reports, we believe that Russia will try to annex the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ to Russia,” said Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

“The reports state that Russia plans to engineer referenda upon joining sometime in mid-May,” he told reporters in Washington.

Carpenter said that the United States also believed Russia was considering a similar plan in a third region, Kherson, where Moscow has recently solidified its control and imposed use of its ruble currency.

“We think the reports are highly credible. Unfortunately we have been more right than wrong in exposing what we believe may be coming next, and so that is part of what we’re trying to do here.”

12:09am: UK’s Johnson to address Ukrainian parliament, announce new aid package

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to address Ukraine’s parliament, delivering a message that the fight against Russian invasion is Ukraine’s “finest hour.”

Johnson’s office says the UK leader will announce a new 300 million pound ($375 million) package of military aid to Ukraine when he speaks to the legislature by video link on Tuesday. Britain has already sent Ukraine equipment including missiles and missile launchers. The new package includes electronic warfare equipment, a counter battery radar system, GPS jamming equipment and thousands of night vision devices.

In advance extracts of the address released by the prime minister’s office, Johnson evokes a 1940 speech by World War II leader Winston Churchill as the UK fought attack from Nazi Germany. Johnson will say that “the British people showed such unity and resolve that we remember our time of greatest peril as our finest hour. This is Ukraine’s finest hour, an epic chapter in your national story that will be remembered and recounted for generations to come.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Britain’s Parliament on March 8, and also likened his country’s struggle to Britain’s fight against the Nazis. Johnson visited Kyiv on April 9.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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